DFW SAFF 2018 Film Review “What Will People Say”



First, the Recap:

A father’s resolve, a daughter’s hate, and the depth of interconnection and steadfast love that is found underneath it all. What forces are at work in this relationship between parent and child that can withstand so much strife, yet maintain its integrity? However, when one misunderstanding and unyielding cultural tradition clash, can there be any forgiveness or healing? Living in Oslo, Norway, Pakistani-born 16-year old Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) has her highly orthodox parents, father Mirza (Adil Hussain) and mother Najma (Ekavali Khanna), fooled. While presenting herself as the proper daughter within the confines of their home, she then has a more typical, free-spirited persona when out with her friends, including boyfriend Daniel (Isak Lie Harr).

Events in Nisha’s life take a harsh turn, though, when her father catches Daniel in her bedroom one night, setting off a cascade of circumstances that shakes the whole family to the core. Feeling that she has totally shamed the family and their status in the eyes of  the community, Mirza forces Nisha to leave Norway and live with her Aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) and Uncle (Lalit Parimoo) back in Pakistan. Only causing Nisha’s deep hurt, confusion, and anger to grow, the acting out only remains tamed for a short while, even while striving to learn her family’s culture. But, an even more brutal and shaming incident occurs, causing further division amongst the entire clan and the values they hold fast to. Can a father’s love and a young girl’s search for identity overcome?

Next, my Mind:

DFW SAFF 2018 marked the U.S. debut of writer/director Iram Haq’s 106-minute indie feature film effort that delivers a gripping, visceral, candid, and unflinchingly blunt narrative which illustrated its foundational father-daughter relationship premise with profoundly unabashed, wrenching execution and intelligence. But, this is also another film that shines a necessary, revealing, and admittedly uncomfortable light on the dynamics of not just the stormy waters involved with parental ties and the circumstances that effect them, but the greater expanse of human interaction and the need to realize that there are times when that guidance and nurturing from others is needed, but other instances where we need to feel we have the freedom to explore who we are as individuals, establish our own identity, and be able to know that it is acceptable to do so while still maintaining the bonds of family. This isn’t to put down traditions or proper overall behavior, but rather to simply acknowledge the fact that when pinned down or forced into any sense of “subjugation”, it can have a negative impact as was so deftly presented here with Nisha’s journey.

This reviewer can only utilize the word “stunning!” to describe the acting debut of 18-year old Maria Mozhdah in her heartbreaking and yet so potently endearing portrayal of the film’s emotionally torn teenager Nisha, a girl only desiring to be a teenager and have any sense she is free to do so. Yet, having to act one way around her traditionalist parents and then being the person she’s wanting to be away from them, it only makes those worlds colliding that much more searing and intense when it occurs. Watching as Nisha battles all the notions she has about the relationship with her father via navigating the overt pain of his anger against her when initial events unfold, to the heartbreaking uncertainty and questioning she experiences when unceremoniously shipped off to Pakistan, to the internal strife, a horrific humiliation she encounters, and the ever-escalating ramifications her decisions bring, it all melds into the gut-punch of a finale involving her father and the culmination of everything that’s happened that just leaves you speechless. Truly a performance to be lauded, admired, and acknowledged for Mozhdah.

Not at all to be lessened is the equally emotive, volatile, and acutely exceptional performance by Adil Hussain as Nisha’s father Mirza, a man of passion, honor, love, and firmness of demeanor who we know adores his family deeply.  But, seeing as he confronts what he believes was his daughter’s indiscretion and the blunt force reaction to it he has only serves to reinforce that while his choices made to deal with the situation may seem utterly extreme, he is doing it all out of how much he cherishes his daughter, even while also desiring to not put the family through any further sense of shame because of Nisha’s actions. But, the journey isn’t finished for him, as we watch a subtle transformation occur under the hard outer shell, a man broken and in agony over what he’s had to do, pent up within until it finally comes out in a truly shattering yet freeing moment between the two of them. Throughout, Hussain exudes all of this rawness with a fiery earnestness worthy of his acting prowess.

Supporting roles mentioned above are all delivered with solid fervency along with additional appearances from Ali Arfan as Nisha’s older brother Asif, Rohit Saraf as Amir, a young man Nisha becomes involved with in Pakistan, and Nokokure Dahl as Nisha’s Norwegian friend Emily. In total, “What Will People Say” stands as a fantastic representation of what independent cinema is all about, with its no-holds-barred approach, highly potent and pertinent social messages, showcasing the fragility and resilience of human connection, parental or otherwise, perhaps causing us to reassess just how much reliance on tradition, and its control over us, is positive or potentially so detrimental.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

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